Relationships can be difficult, so when the going gets rough, often we turn to our relationships with children for the intimacy that we need but aren't getting from our spouse. Unfortunately, this puts an undue burden on the child who was never designed to be the emotional support for the parent. Thus, if we want to influence our children's mental and physical health, then the best way to do so is to work on our relationships with our spouses. This isn't just theory. This is research based.
Long-time science journalist Paul Raeburn* explains the research in his book Do Father's Matter?: What Science is Telling Us About the Parent We've Overlooked.
"The idea behind [James McKale's] study - and one that was born out of his research - was that when parents have a strong alliance, children show fewer signs of stress, marital relationships are stronger, and children have better relationships with their peers. (p. 85)"
And: "In many families, 'both parents have good relationships with the kids, but still the kid is in turmoil, and it's often because of the co-parenting relationship (p. 86)"
I know that many of our marital relationships aren't going so well, and I know that a large number of parents out there are single, separated, or divorced. My goal here isn't to make people feel ashamed about themselves who are in such situations. In fact, these sorts of situations are probably more of the norm than healthy, vibrant spousal relationships. In this sense, we need to know that when it comes to marriage and parenting, we're all in the same boat. Life is messy and chaotic at the relational level, and often, things just aren't going well.
In response to these difficult situations, Longtime psychologists Kenneth Adams, Ph.D.** and Patricia Love, Ph.D.*** advocate that parents who don't have the emotional support they need from a spouse need to find other adults to help meet their adult emotional needs. And, to be honest, from my perspective, husbands need good guy friends and wives need good girlfriends even if the marriage is a healthy one.
However, if you are in a marriage relationship and you have kids, then according to the research, the best way you can influence your children for their mental and physical health is to work on your relationship with your spouse. Proactive marriage counseling with a trained and qualified therapist is a good route to go. It isn't just for you and your spouse. It's for the two of you and your children.
*Do Father's Matter?: What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We've Overlooked by Paul Raeburn (long-time science journalist and writer)
**Silently Seduced: When Parents Make Children Their Partners by Kenneth Adams, Ph.D.
***The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What to Do When a Parent's Love Rules Your Life by Patricia Love, Ph.D.